The international development sector is facing two intersecting movements for change: one centres around ‘doing development differently’, and one focuses on localisation.
Both movements highlight racialised power imbalances in terms of who delivers and who receives aid and where funding goes. Although what constitutes ‘local’ may vary in its interpretation, even within the same agency, the consensus is clear: the power needs to shift.
Frontline AIDS was set up 30 years ago as the International HIV/AIDS Alliance to strengthen local responses to HIV and AIDS by providing support to national organisations. We have learned a lot over the past three decades. Our partnership now constitutes 60 independent civil society partners operating in 100 countries. Many of these organisations are led by representatives from communities most affected by HIV and AIDS, and the partnership is informed by human rights frameworks.
To some extent, our partnership model has always been decentralised, with a model of selected partner organisations acting as regional support hubs. However, Frontline AIDS was the global convenor, holding the bulk of funds and sub-granting and providing technical support to regional and national organisations which, in turn, support grassroots organisations. Over time, this partnership model has evolved as partner organisations have grown in capacity and funding, with many now principal recipients or primes in their own right.
In 2007, 80% of the income of the Frontline AIDS partnership was channelled through Frontline AIDS. By 2020, this situation had been reversed: total income was $183 million, and 87% of this funding was managed by national and community partners. This is an evolution of which we are proud.
Shared standards and values
The importance of strong local organisations for effective and sustainable interventions is now broadly recognised, not least because of their local knowledge and socio-cultural understanding. Our experience emphasises the importance of supporting local NGOs to ensure they have the structures, systems and organisational capacity to lead programmes and respond effectively to crises.
Like other international NGOs looking to promote equity in our structures and processes, we continually review our due diligence. We use a peer-to-peer accreditation system for partner organisations, which assesses governance, sustainability, external engagement, organisational management and programming, combined with ongoing technical support. This promotes shared standards and values, including gender equality and the meaningful involvement of people living with HIV. It also builds donors’ confidence in the ability of partner organisations, including smaller/emerging organisations.
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An evolving partnership
The learning and insights we have gained over the last 30 years have resulted in an evolution of the Frontline AIDS partnership, which now:
- has a shared strategy
- is multi-directional
- practices distributed leadership
Having a shared strategy means that we work together to deliver our Global Plan of Action. Strategic Partners lead different actions supported by other partner organisations in action groups.
Our multi-directional partnership operates at global, national and local levels, with partner organisations, including Frontline AIDS, playing various roles as prime recipients, subcontractors, or resource/technical support partners, depending on the opportunity. The partnership nurtures collaborations, forming consortia to deliver interventions. For instance, the READY (Resilient and Empowered Adolescents and Young People) consortium consists of partners from within and outside the partnership. READY+ embodies the concept of doing development differently, with shared leadership and self-governance, including meaningful involvement of youth.
There has been so much significant learning and innovation through this partnership. There’s no substitute for collective working – and this Partnership Council brings us together. We can see that people from different regions are often having similar problems and we can work together to solve them, sharing our insight and understanding.Dr Sunil Mehra MAMTA, India
The success of the partnership hinges on ‘self-governed decision-making’. A Partnership Council, consisting of representatives from 11 partner organisations, two of which are youth-led, serves as a platform that fosters shared leadership. This promotes the partnership’s quality, effectiveness and continuous development, and its collective efforts in delivering on the Global Plan of Action.
The partnership is driven by the following four principles, inspired by the debates on doing development differently and central to our aspiration to become an anti-racist organisation.
- Self-governed decision-making platform: Partners have the same power of voice to co-define and co-produce how we work together to end AIDS, as a partnership. The Partnership Council helps to ensure the effective and efficient implementation (and eventually re-formulation) of the Global Plan of Action.
- Equality: Our partners are equal, regardless of their capacity or budget size.
- Diversity: Our collective advocacy power is provided by diversity of voice and expertise.
- We co-design, and agree as a partnership, on accountability mechanisms, including reporting back on delivering the Global Plan of Action.
Our partnership promotes racial and ethnic inclusivity and recognises international development’s colonial roots. As such, we actively seek to dismantle the structures that continue to perpetuate paternalistic, racist and non-inclusive practices from funders.
The 2022 Frontline AIDS report highlights the partnership’s achievements. We are committed to bold action via a partnership that not only has a strong identity and purpose, but the flexibility to pivot to new national and global challenges, including the potential impact of climate change on the HIV response.
Our role is not to continue with business as usual. We will continually evolve to safeguard a sustainable and effective partnership in an ever-changing and uncertain health financing environment to reach our vision of ending AIDS for everyone, everywhere.